What are the most powerful cards in Standard right now? I’m guessing most of you answered with “Stoneforge Mystic,” “Jace, the
Mind Sculptor,” or “Primeval Titan.” I’m guessing no one answered with “Fauna Shaman” or “Vengevine.”
No one, that is, except me.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 2 Frost Titan
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
So, now that you’ve taken a peek, you must be asking yourself, “Why should I play this deck?”
The answer? Well, it’s not as easy as pointing out the cards. Or the synergy. Or the fact that it beats up on Caw-Blade. On second thought, it is
just as easy as that.
At the core, this deck revolves around Fauna Shaman and fast mana in the form of Lotus Cobra, Nest Invader, and Birds of Paradise. Everything else in
this deck complements those key components, whether they are the one-ofs like Consecrated Sphinx and Oracle of Mul Daya to the four-ofs like Vengevine
and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Typically an opening hand consists of fast mana and either a planeswalker or a Vengevine. There are eight creatures that demand an answer from your
opponent immediately or you will pull very far ahead on turn two. These creatures are Fauna Shaman and Lotus Cobra.
Fauna Shaman lets you find all of your bullet targets and more importantly, Vengevines. An unanswered turn-two Fauna Shaman will run away with the
game, especially against Caw-Blade. All you have to do is sit back and amass a graveyard full of angry plants until the Vengevines spring into the red
zone. Another viable option is to tutor up cards to card-advantage the opponent, such as Frost Titan, Consecrated Sphinx, Oracle of Mul Daya, and
Lotus Cobra does exactly what you expect it to do, accelerating into the big hitters in the deck. Have you been on the receiving end of a turn 3 Acidic
Slime before? Why not be on the casting side instead? Once you play Acidic Slime, or even a Jace, on turn three, you’ll be hooked on Lotus Cobra.
With Nest Invader and Birds of Paradise, there are twelve ways to play a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Garruk Wildspeaker, or Vengevine on turn three. All
of these are dramatic and impactful plays that force the opponent to react. This is exactly where you want to be in matchups, aggressively using tempo
to beat your opponents.
Other than fast mana, this deck also loves to use powerful four-drops like Garruk Wildspeaker, Jace, and Vengevine. By playing planeswalkers in an
aggressive deck, your opponents are forced to expend resources dealing with the planeswalkers. This allows you to be more aggressive in return.
Garruk Wildspeaker is a card that has alternated between two and four slots in the deck. Recently, I have cut the card because it’s not on the
same power level that it used to be. With everyone packing Swords in the format, the -1 ability is relatively poor at protecting Garruk. However, if
Garruk lives, he drastically improves your odds of winning the game. Making Beasts helps fit the aggressive role, and the untapping of lands helps pay
for Mana Leak on key cards, or it powers out Frost Titan and Consecrated Sphinx.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor does a lot of heavy lifting in this deck. This deck has twelve fetchlands and four Fauna Shamans for shuffle effects. All of
these shuffling effects means that Jace’s zero ability will, more likely than not, be seeing new cards every time. Against aggressive decks, his
bounce ability will buy you a lot time, letting you untap with him, pulling you even farther ahead.
In addition, his plus-two ability can help you seal up a game and protect him from unwanted drops in loyalty, resulting in his untimely demise. In some
situations, Jace can also use his bounce ability to reuse effects from Frost Titan and Acidic Slime. Don’t forget it can also set up Vengevine
recursion by bouncing your own creature.
Finally, we come to the best four-drop in the deck, the angry plant himself, Vengevine.
Are your opponents playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and brainstorming? Has a Jace Beleren got you down? Maybe a Koth of the Hammer? Well Vengevine
solves all of those problems! He’s even serviceable on defense against opponent’s attacking creatures. Did I mention the best part? He
comes back after he’s been dealt with! Take THAT, Day of Judgment!
Now that the cards are all on the table, why should this deck be played over Caw-Blade? Because you want to beat Caw-Blade and not have to worry about
gaining slight edges in the mirror with tight play and deck construction. Because worrying about the opponent winning the die roll and going turn 2
Stoneforge Mystic fetching Sword of Feast and Famine isn’t quite your style. This deck is the slayer of Caw-Blade.
Imagine that you’re playing Caw-Blade. Your opponent wins the die roll and plays a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. Automatically, you’re going to be
looking at some very dead countermagic in your hand, from Spell Pierce to Mana Leak. You also have to worry about what kind of threat is going to come
down in the immediate future.
Will they slow roll the Verdant Catacombs and Misty Rainforests to make sure that their threats resolve even under threat of Mana Leak? Or maybe
they’ll just play a land and cast a turn three Vengevine and attack for six. An equal and perhaps greater threat is a turn two Fauna Shaman. Now
they can chain Vengevines into their graveyard and eventually kill you with Vengevine recursion. And all of this was decided on turn two. On turn two
you’re already dead.
What if they don’t have one of eight cards in their deck on turn two? Should be a breeze then, right?
Not exactly. They had some reason for keeping that hand, such as another accelerator like Birds of Paradise or Nest Invader. A turn three Jace, the
Mind Sculptor against Caw-Blade is a very powerful effect and one that is very hard to deal with. There’s also the option of getting an early
Vengevine and just going fully aggressive, demanding a Day of Judgment or Gideon Jura.
And you know what? This deck would absolutely love it if you tapped out on turn four to Day of Judgment. The sheer density of threats makes burning an
early Day of Judgment a losing proposition. Most likely, the opponent will untap and cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which is now under no immediate
threat, free to brainstorm and find additional ways of attack. Or maybe two creatures will be played, bringing back Vengevines.
This matchup is definitely one that Caw-Blade players will want to avoid. Going long, Vengevines come back over and over again to haunt the opponent;
Consecrated Sphinx or Oracle of Mul Daya demand a Day of Judgment by themselves; and Frost Titan is no easy threat to handle either.
After playing the deck at the StarCityGames.com Boston Open to a Top 8, I definitely have a few changes to recommend. Garruk Wildspeaker was a product
of assuming the metagame had not changed as drastically as it actually had since the addition of Mirrodin Besieged. It turns out that while Garruk was
very good against old U/W Control decks, he’s not so good against Caw-Blade. Replacing Garruk, I would add either Mold Shambler or Phyrexian
Revoker in one of the slots and a third Frost Titan in the second.
In regards to splashing, I can see merits for adding any of the colors. However, this may not have a positive effect on the mana base.
Splashing black gives access to Creeping Tar Pit, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Grave Titan. It also lets you have Memoricide, Doom Blade, and Go for the
Throat out of the board. Splashing red gives us Cunning Sparkmage, Lightning Bolt, Inferno Titan, and Raging Ravine. Splashing white gives access to
Sun Titan, Squadron Hawk, Stoneforge Mystic, Gideon Jura, and Celestial Colonnade. There are also some very good board options with a white splash such
as Kor Firewalker, Celestial Purge, Oust, Condemn, and Baneslayer Angel.
That said, given the allure of the white splash, why did I decide to go with just two colors?
I was afraid of tempting the fates by playing too many lands that don’t tap for the right colors. Playing just blue and green makes the mana
streamlined. You lose the versatility of the splash, but you also gain mana consistency. Too many times in my testing I had spells trapped in my hand
that I couldn’t cast. There’s no worse feeling than having a powerful blue planeswalker in hand when all you can cast is Squadron Hawk.
Here is the decklist I would use moving forward.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Mold Shambler
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 3 Frost Titan
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
Let’s be realistic: a key part of winning a tournament is beating Caw-Blade. The Top 8 of a tournament will most likely consist of at least fifty
percent Caw-Blade. All of the top tables? An overwhelming amount of Caw-Blade. However, to get to the top tables this deck has to plow through the rest
of the field, including Valakut, U/x control decks, RUG, and a variety of aggro decks such as Boros, Vampires, and Mono-Red. Let’s take a look at
Against Valakut, the game plan is to get a clock going on their life total and then disrupt, disrupt, and disrupt some more.
Having no counterspells maindeck definitely hurts, but this deck does not want counterspells maindeck. It wants to be as streamlined as possible. As
far as getting a clock on Valakut, it can be as simple as casting a couple of Grizzly Bears in the form of Nest Invader or Fauna Shaman and attacking
or fetching up Vengevines.
The disruption factor is where the deck excels in this matchup. By using Jace, the Mind Sculptor to aggressively bounce their Overgrown Battlements and
Lotus Cobras, it clears the way for our ground pounders to get through while slowing them down. Acidic Slime also helps out. Slime can hit Khalni Heart
Expeditions, their basic lands (potentially locking them out of double green, or even any green mana at all), and even Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
The last part of disruption is the best against Valakut decks. I’m referring, of course, to Frost Titan. Frost Titan trumps Primeval Titan. The
only way that Valakut players can kill a Frost Titan is if they have a Harrow and excess mana, a second Primeval Titan and excess mana, or multiple
Lightning Bolts. He is also a savage beater that threatens to quickly end the game.
Post-board, Valakut gains access to sweepers. This is where you want to slow down your game plan and avoid running all of the Grizzly Bear-esque
creatures into a waiting Pyroclasm or Slagstorm. I like to play out a threat at a time, slowly chipping away at their life while holding up
Flashfreeze. The cards to be aware of are Summoning Trap and Harrow, both of which ruin your plan of disruption. Harrow gets around Acidic
Slime’s come into play ability and Frost Titan’s ability. Summoning Trap also prevents a Primeval Titan from getting tapped down by Frost
Titan if they trap at the end of your turn.
Against Valakut, four Birds of Paradise and two Fauna Shamans come out. The reason that Birds of Paradise comes out over Lotus Cobra is twofold. If
Lotus Cobra lives, it propels you much further ahead than Birds of Paradise. Lotus Cobra also has a power of two, which is not irrelevant in this
matchup. Fauna Shaman comes out because it slows down the deck, tricking you into fetching Vengevine after Vengevine while not affecting the board.
Flashfreeze, Volition Reins, and Mind Control all come in. The goal of this matchup is to stop Titans, both Inferno and Primeval. All of the board
cards that come in and Frost Titan help in this manner.
U/X Control and Caw-Blade
Reiterating some of the earlier points against Caw-Blade, this deck is heavily favored because of fast mana, recursive threats, and planeswalkers.
Additionally, there are multiple ways to deal with Sword of Feast and Famine, which is what Caw-Blade relies on to tilt matchups in their favor. When
deciding on what to grab with Fauna Shaman, the best course of action is to usually get a Vengevine chain going, ending with Consecrated Sphinx or a
cheap creature to trigger Vengevines more easily. Alternatively, Oracle of Mul Daya is a great way to try to get back into a game that you’re
behind in. Likewise for Consecrated Sphinx. Post-board, don’t be afraid of Condemn and Oust. If they have those cards, it’s more likely
they don’t have a hand with a lot of other action. The game plan is still the same except Into the Roil can make an appearance for a surprise
Against Caw-Blade, Into the Roil and Volition Reins comes in over two Frost Titans and one Birds of Paradise. The matchup is already very favorable,
and having instant-speed answers to Gideon Jura, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Sword of Feast and Famine helps immensely.
U/x control decks play out much in the same way as the Caw-Blade matchup. The control decks don’t have enough answers to spare for every threat,
and they eventually succumb to the attrition of this deck. This matchup is where Mana Leak comes in to stop bigger threats such as Gideon Jura out of
classic U/W Control and Grave Titan out of U/B Control.
Another matchup that does not like to see Frost Titan, much like Valakut, is RUG.
Vengevine and Frost Titan are very threatening for a RUG player. Playing around Pyroclasm is also easy enough, laying out only one two-drop at a time
or by waiting to play a Vengevine. Eventually the RUG player will have to tap out for some big threat, and that’s when you show him the bad news
that is Frost Titan. Alternatively, Consecrated Sphinx can out-draw the RUG player and generate a massive advantage for you.
Against RUG, four Birds of Paradise and two Acidic Slimes come out. Two Into the Roils, one Volition Reins, one Mind Control, and two Flashfreeze come
in. These board cards help to diversify the answers against their potential threats. Kicking an Into the Roil on a Precursor Golem is a very satisfying
feeling and will often lead to a victory, as you can imagine an Ancestral Recall and Time Walk would.
Finally we come to the aggressive end of the spectrum. These decks are trying to kill as soon as possible, often ignoring any defense thrown up against
them. I’m not going to lie to you and say these matchups are good. These are the matchups you want to avoid at any cost. That does not mean that
there is no plan for these decks, however.
Recurring Vengevines as blockers to weather the early storm of beatdown is a viable option, as is going big with Frost Titan to lock down a threat and
block against another one. Post-board, Obstinate Baloth joins the party as do options ranging from Tumble Magnet to Into the Roil. If given the
opportunity, trade any creature for theirs as soon as possible. Granted, you may not always get the option, but when given a choice between untapping
with a Fauna Shaman or trading with a Goblin Guide, it’s almost always correct to just trade with the Goblin Guide. The goal is to live until
Frost Titan can come online and swing the game around.
As far as boarding goes, against aggressive decks, the Narcolepsy, Into the Roil, and Obstinate Baloth come in. A couple of Birds of Paradise, a few
Jace, the Mind Sculptors, and Acidic Slime can come out. Optionally, Oracle of Mul Daya can come out over an Acidic Slime if they have equipment like
After all this, the reasons are clear as to why this deck is a contender and the right deck to play in any coming tournaments. Not only is casting
Vengevine, Jace, and Frost Titan loads of fun, but they are also very powerful threats. This deck has taken me to two Top 8 appearances in
StarCityGames.com Opens, placing second and seventh as well as placing me in nineteenth at the StarCityGames.com Invitational held in Richmond. For
those keeping track, that’s three for three money finishes with the deck. If the deck has been good for almost half a year, it will surely
continue to be good as time moves forward.
Seeing as New Phyrexia (NPH) is right around the corner, I can’t say for sure what the future will hold for how this deck will shape up. One
possible addition is Beast Within somewhere in the maindeck. This will provide instant-speed removal against planeswalkers, equipment, and it even
turns Birds of Paradise into a 3/3 Beast at instant speed.
If you’re looking for a fun, competitive, and non-Caw-Blade deck, I would highly recommend this one. Good luck to everyone in upcoming PTQs,
StarCityGames.com Opens, and FNMs!
If you have any questions at all, feel free to comment in the forums or ask by contacting me in any of the various media listed
krazykirby4 on Magic Online
@krazykirby4 on Twitter
krazykirby at gmail dot com